Chisholm: Telfair fills a need on the Raptors' roster

Tim Chisholm
2/21/2013 9:41:11 PM
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As soon as the Raptors went ahead and dealt Jose Calderon to acquire Rudy Gay, the search began to acquire a new backup point guard. While Dwane Casey is a big fan of John Lucas, even he admitted early in the season that Lucas is not a point guard in the playmaking sense, and the Raptors' inability to run an offence with him on the floor of late has proven his point quite ably.

Enter Sebastian Telfair, the former teenage prodigy who is about to join his eighth team in nine years. While he never managed to fully capitalize on his prodigious talents, he became a very steady backup option in Minnesota and Phoenix (before rookie Kendall Marshall's development took precedence this season with the Suns) and is now bringing his talents north to Toronto.

What Telfair gives the Raptors is a speedy, undersized guard (apparently Toronto's newest addiction) that can penetrate off the dribble and stay in front of the quicker guards at his position. He has been hitting the three well this season at 38.1 per cent, but that's well above his career average of 32.1 per cent and so some regression is to be expected before the end of the season.

While Telfair will never be mistaken for Steve Nash or Chris Paul as a passer, and turnovers have been a career-long issue, he's far more comfortable at the helm of an offence than Lucas is. He's learned how to keep the ball moving and use change-of-pace attacks to throw defences off balance, but he won't be replicating Calderon's hyper-efficient playmaking so much as keeping the Raptors from needing to put the offence solely in Lucas's hands.

Unfortunately, Telfair is yet another small guard who, combined with Lowry and Lucas, gives the Raptors precious few options when it comes to slowing down bigger guys at the point guard position. There aren't that many big, post-up point guards left in the NBA (hand-checking rules has really put an emphasis on driving rather than posting-up), but there are some bigger guards - like Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday - that know how to use their size to bully their way to the rim on drives, that the Raptors will continue to struggle against. It doesn't help that Toronto struggles tremendously with the defensive rotations in the post, so those big guards will continue to cause problems for Toronto whether Lowry, Lucas or Telfair are guarding the point of attack.

The bigger question in all of this is whether or not Telfair was worth the price it took to get him to Toronto. While Hamed Haddadi was never going to see the inside of a Raptors uniform, dealing away what is likely to be a high second-round pick (the lowest between Toronto's and Sacramento's picks that Toronto owns) may come back to bite the club. Good scouting and the new cap rules have put a new kind of premium on second-round picks, and when one considers that Portland got Eric Maynor for cap space, it makes the price for Telfair seem a little higher than it needed to be. Phoenix was basically on a mission to dump Telfair so it's surprising that Toronto needed a pick in addition to Haddadi to push that deal through. It's hardly backbreaking, it's just surprising.

Still, Telfair is a cheap, useable asset whose contract expires at season's end and he fills a need on the roster. He trains in the offseason at Impact Basketball with Lowry, Gay and Alan Anderson, too, so there may be some built-in chemistry with parts of Toronto's playing rotation.

What remains to be seen is how Casey uses Telfair and Lucas now that he has both at his disposal. He's had a hard time settling on a consistent rotation since Gay arrived and Bargnani and Valanciunas got healthy, so adding another playable piece may serve to further confuse things initially rather than correct them, but Casey asked for another guard and Casey got another guard, so it's up to him how he wants to use him.

Unless Telfair really establishes himself in Toronto, though, the backup point guard spot will probably be a point of emphasis for the front office in the offseason. Both Lucas and Telfair could be gone next year (the team holds an option on Lucas and Telfair is a free agent) and so while there is now a stop-gap measure in place, expect the position to be revisited when a more permanent solution can be secured this summer.

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